How Chantal Miller is empowering island girls

“I love us.” It’s the first thing Chantal Miller, the founder and head of Island Girls Rock, said in our interview.
“It’s the love and passion I have for who we are as Caribbean people, finding purpose in amplifying our stories, our histories, our culture.
It all comes from a deep-seated love of us.”

Deep Caribbean Roots

Chantal might have been born in the UK, but she is Caribbean through and through. Born to a Nevisian mother and a Jamaican father, and raised by a Nevisian stepfather, she was immersed in Caribbean culture from birth. She recalls going back and forth between the UK and the Caribbean from when she was 18 months old. Chantal lived in Nevis after turning 11, finishing primary school and secondary school in the small country. It’s here that the roots of Island Girls Rock (IGR) took hold.

Even at age 15, Miller was observant. During the holidays, she noticed many girls her age and younger couldn’t travel to other countries, or had no activities to do during the months away from school. She conceptualized a summer camp – a space just for girls to have fun. She secured sponsorships and she did the organization, and the camp happened annually until she moved back to the UK in 2002. 

Moving back to the country of her birth was a surprising culture shock. Leaving Nevis, where Blackness was the norm, and re-entering the European climate was difficult. “I found the umbrella group identity of ‘Black British’ as limiting,” she explains, “without acknowledging or celebrating the differences of the cultures of Black people all over the world.” But this cemented a deeper connection with the Caribbean and African diaspora. Chantal decided that if the broader British media was not going to celebrate Black people in all their nuances, she would.

Island Girls Rock was born from this notion and a more immediate catalyst.

In 2015, tropical storm Erika devastated many Caribbean countries, but Dominica felt the brunt of it. It was the most destructive natural disaster the country had faced since Hurricane David in 1979. 823 homes were damaged and 7345 people were displaced. Dominica only had a population of around 70,000 at the time. A group of young people had the idea to set up a brunch centered on Dominican culture to raise funds for aid. The brunch would of course have food, but also showcase Caribbean artists and films from the island. Chantal, with her background in filmmaking and broadcast journalism, found kindred spirits within this group and sought to amplify their work. 

The brunch was intended to be a one-off thing, but attendees demanded to know what was next. Island Girls Rock was born out of this desire from the diaspora. “We evolved and we expanded, but the core of [Island Girls Rock] is to amplify the voices of island women – island girls,” she explains. “The dream is to have Island Girls Rock everywhere there are women [from the diaspora].” She describes the group as more than a network, but an “organic directory.” It’s almost a service, a site for connection, where members of the African diaspora can connect for community or just for work.

Island Girls Rock hosts put on a variety of events both in-person and virtually. Their “Let’s Get Lit” book club has covered multiple modern classics by Black female authors. They’ve partnered with Festival of the Girl, an outreach program with a simple mission: to empower young girls, often in the 7-11 age range, to prepare them for a world which often undervalues women. Island Girls Rock will be bringing back their award-winning podcast after years in stasis.

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